Muuril and the other sergeant seemed to lean against each other. As they broke apart, the man from the Fifteenth spun around to his men.
"Run for it!"
The legionnaires — Fifteenth, Thirteenth and Fifth — needed no further encouragement. As a solid mass, they swept pass the officer and plunged into the legionnaires on the stairs, sending them sprawling. Gelthius ran with the rest of them, shouting an apology over his shoulder as he stepped on the arm of a man who had fallen.
There were more soldiers from the Second Magilnadan upstairs; five of them between the erupting mob and the door to the street. Three had enough sense to jump out of the way; the other two were swept out of the tavern by the mass of legionnaires making a bid for freedom. Tumbling into the dirt street outside, shields and spears trampled underfoot, they were soon lost from view. Gelthius was one of the first to reach the door and broke left.
"Scatter! Back to the camp when you can!"
Gelthius didn't recognise the voice but took the advice anyway. With the others, he pounded down the cobbled road, the group growing smaller and smaller as others broke away into side streets and alleys. Laughing, Gelthius stumbled under an arched bridge linking two buildings.
He almost ran straight into another officer. Pulling himself back at the last moment, he twisted aside. The officer stopped and turned. With horror, Gelthius realised it was King Ullsaard. He straightened himself as best as he could, banging a fist to his chest in salute.
Ullsaard looked at him for a moment. The king cocked his head to one side, listening as the shouts of the hue and cry echoed through the archway.
"Are you running away from someone, legionnaire?" asked Ullsaard.
"Yes, your majesty," said Gelthius. There was no point denying it.
The king looked at him for a moment longer, and then his gaze moved past Gelthius and under the arch.
"Best keep running," said Ullsaard, gently but firmly pushing Gelthius to the left, back towards the centre of Magilnada.
With a grateful nod and a lop-sided smile, Gelthius set off, winking at the bodyguard of Thirteenth Legionnaires following their king. Just as the road took a sharp turn, he looked back and saw King Ullsaard haranguing the captain of the Second Magilnadan.
"Spirits bless you, general," Gelthius whispered to himself as he disappeared into the market crowds.
A second city as large as Magilnada stretched across the plains hotwards of the city gate. The gap between the Lidean and Minean mountain ranges was full of Askhans, nearly ninety thousand of them. More than ten thousand had already marched duskwards into Salphoria, led by impatient amateur commanders.
As he had done many times in the past days, Anglhan rubbed his hands with glee. All those men, who needed food, water, whores, abadas, rope, wine, sandals, and a hundred other things beside; all of them bringing chests full of askharins into his city. He had not hoarded it all to himself; he was greedy but not stupid. More than half the gold he had taken in taxes had been spent improving his two Magilnadan legions; recruiting and equipping three thousand more men, and ensuring both legions had plentiful armour, weapons and rations. He had invested in twenty of the Askhan spear-throwing machines, and had been disappointed to discover that with the Brotherhood prohibited by Ullsaard, lava-throwers were no longer available.
That was the money he considered his 'civic' fund, which he set aside for expenses concerning the city. From his personal fortune he had bribed quite a few Hillman chiefs to cease their raids from further into the mountains, persuading them that they could get more by staying at home than they could by harassing the caravans moving between Greater Askhor and the newly-conquered territories of the Free Country.
The rest he was spending as the mood took him. The palaces on the Hill of Chieftains at Magilnada's heart had never looked so grand, nor been filled with so many servants, administrators and general lackeys.
He huffed onto the gold and silver rings adorning his left hand and polished them on his woollen shirt, enjoying the lustre of gems and pearls. A clatter of feet on the gatehouse steps caused him to turn. Ullsaard was the first out of the tower. Seeing the Askhan king reminded Anglhan that he would need to despatch agents to procure him an ailur, purely for display; he had no intention of riding one of the fearsome war-cats.
"Hail King Ullsaard," Anglhan said with a grin. "I trust everything is to your satisfaction?"
"No, it isn't" said Ullsaard. "There's no decent road to march on beyond ten miles from the city and half of the legions haven't got campsites with fresh water."
"I have been sending water from our wells to help them," said Anglhan.
"Yes, and charging the First Captains for the pleasure," said Ullsaard.
"I have expenses," Anglhan said with a lugubrious shrug. "Wells don't dig themselves, and water doesn't leap into the buckets on its own, nor flow into barrels or drive abada carts."
Ullsaard answered only with a long, penetrating stare. Anglhan smiled.
"I promise that I have made no profit on the water, Ullsaard," said the governor. "My costs and charges are open to be examined."
"Yes, I'm sure they are," said Ullsaard. He sighed heavily. "What about the whores and merchants you keep sending into the camps?"
"I have not sent anybody, spirits strike me down if I lie!" said Anglhan. "It is not my place to tell proper tradesmen, and women, where they can and cannot go."
"You're a fucking governor, not a market stall holder," snapped Ullsaard. "I am issuing a general order tomorrow: any person found within half a mile of a legion camp without a token of passage will be killed. This whole area is full of mongrel bastards from all over the mountains and Salphoria. There's no telling what they've seen and who they're telling it to."
"And how does someone get a token of passage?" asked Anglhan.
"From me or a First Captain."
Anglhan pouted for a moment.
"Can a governor not issue them?"
Ullsaard's jaw twitched with irritation and his eyes narrowed.
"No, a governor can't," he said. "And if they could, I wouldn't let you near the things. You'd be selling them to the highest bidder quicker than they could be made."
Anglhan chose not to comment. He leaned his arms on the parapet and stared out over the assembling armies.
"This province needs a name," Ullsaard said, joining the governor. "Your patch is bigger than just Magilnada, and I'm not inclined to call it Free Country for long, it gives people the wrong idea."
"It used to be called the Faellina, or at least the tribes who used to live here were called that. That's how it works in Salphoria; the place is named after the people, not the other way around like you Askhans."
"I'm not Askhan, remember? I was born in Enair."
Anglhan waved away the quibble.
"The point still stands, Ullsaard. In Salphoria, the peoples and the areas are the same. There are no borders, none that you'd recognise. One chieftain says to another chieftain, 'The land this side of the forest is mine' and the other chieftain says that is fine with him or gets an axe in the head. That area gets named after the tribe, until the second chieftain gets brave enough to put an axe in the other man's head or his people grow numerous enough to gently shoulder the first tribe out of the way. You think Magilnada is a mongrel region? You're going to get even more confused the further duskwards you go."
Ullsaard cleared his throat, tapped his fingers on the top of the wall for a moment and then turned sideways to look at Anglhan.
"Faellina? Right. That's what we'll put on the maps."
The two of them said nothing for a while, both with their own thoughts. It was Anglhan that broke the quiet.